If parenting is so hard, why do we keep doing it?

The answer… because we’re addicted to it.

Here’s a great article from Slate with the premise that humans get such a physiological jolt of pleasure from the occasional hug, kiss or snuggle that it makes up for all the blood, sweat and tears that comes from raising children.

To put it another way – if it was so hard – we’d all be one children families. Here’s a passage from the piece:

“Parenting is a grind, and most parents are stressed out much more than they are happy. But when parents think about parenting, they don’t remember the background stress. They remember the cuddle and the kiss. Parenting is a series of intensely high highs, followed by long periods of frustration and stress, during which you go to great lengths to find your way back to that sofa and that kiss.

We have a name for people who pursue rare moments of bliss at the expense of their wallets and their social and professional relationships: addicts.

Children regularly give parents the kind of highs that only narcotics can rival. The unpredictability of those moments of bliss is an important factor in their addictiveness.”

Intrigued? Read on:

Kid Friendly Black and White Movies

I’ve written previously about the ever-increasing extremes movies are reaching to blow the audience out of their seats – with the nearly ubiquitous recent appearence of 3D, IMAX screenings and mind-blowing CGI animation.

There’s nothing inherently bad about how Hollywood is bringing more to the movie experience except there’s a risk that our children’s threshold for entertainment will be so amped-up they’ll not be able to appreciate less nuclear-powered eye candy. Ultimately the story has to reign supreme.

That was the big ding on Avatar. Despite the off-the-chart never seen before animation and visual experience – the story itself was nothing but a rehash of Pocahontas – which is a really good story in and of itself.

And there are a lot of amazing unforgettable stories collecting dust in the Classics section of Blockbuster (or virtual dust in the catalogs on NetFlix) that deserve to be watched. So what better way to emphasize the importance of really really good story telling than to see them unfold in glorious black and white. No Dolby or THX. No HD. No spine tingling eye-searing computer generated animation… just simple classic stories told in a simple voice and style. 

Here’s a list of ten classics good for any kid over six or seven. We’ve only been through two of them (Casablanca and Pride of the Yankees – which my eight year old loved – partly because it’s about baseball/Lou Gehrig) but I’m committed to getting through them as part of my son’s education.

Safety Last – 1923 w/ Harold Lloyd
Mr. Deeds goes to Town – 1936 w/ Gary Cooper
You Can’t Take it With You – 1938 w/ James Stewart
Boys Town – 1938 w/ Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – 1939 w/ James Stewart
The Pride of the Yankees – 1942 w/ Gary Cooper
Casablanca – 1942 w/ Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman
Bells of St. Marys – 1945 w/ Bing Crosby
Christmas in Connecticut – 1945 w/ Barbara Stanwyck
It’s a Wonderful Life – 1946 w/ James Stewart

Dads, Be Prepared. Worry More.

When I was younger I used to read (or more accurately “skim”) Cosmopolitan Magazine because it offered me what I thought at the time was insight into how women think, what they want and what they’re looking for. Way back in the day – when I was doing this, occasionally I’d stumble on a couple of bits and pieces that I actually used. If nothing else, it provided interesting material for chatting up a cutey pie on a Friday night.

Recently, I’ve found more relevant and more helpful content at DoubleX – a women’s focused website with buckets of well written content on news, politics, parenting, relationships, etc. that I access usually through my Slate.com visits. As a husband and father, the Cosmo sex quiz or “How to Get Guys to Buy You Whatever You Want” articles aren’t as helpful anymore… go figure.

Click here for an article I came across highlighting an interesting perspective that men ultimately suffer more than women when their kids leave for college.  This is consistent with my personal experience (and distant recollections) that guys take longer to get over serious relationships simply because we aren’t skilled at managing and sharing our emotions  –  with ourselves or our friends, which helps tremendously in coming to terms with a break-up and moving on.

The DoubleX article details how men, who – according to the piece “…don’t worry about things until they happen”, aren’t prepared for the shift that’s required when a child leaves home. The author, Mimi Swartz, writes that she (and her friends) begin the process months if not years before, thinking, worrying and mourning the pending seperation and are therefore better prepared when it happens and consequently able to work through the process much more quickly – and easily. With men, apparently not…

So Pops, if you want to make things easier for yourself when it does happen – start now. Although my kids are still in elementary school, I do try to really be present and relish every moment I can get – cuz it’s flying by so fast, college applications will be flying out the door in what will seem like a blink of an eye.

I’d love to hear from any dads (or moms) that can validate (or refute) this but it makes a lot of sense to me.

NORAD Tracking Santa

Squeeze in geography lessons while tracking Santa with help from an unlikely organization… NORAD (North America Aerospace Defense) the bilateral military effort between Canada and the U.S. charged with the mission of aerospace warning and control for North America.

For the past 50 years NORAD has been providing resources to track Santa Claus as he makes his way across the globe delivering gifts to all the kids of the earth. 🙂

In 2007, Google signed onto the project as a technology partner, and since then, has been incorporating NORAD’s data on Santa’s whereabouts into special 2D Google Maps and 3D Google Earth representations.

Just this week my three year old can pinpoint the Great Wall of China, Prince Edward Islands (South Africa) and Madagascar as she’s been watching the jolly fellow make his way East towards Europe, South and North America.

Check it out: http://www.noradsanta.org/en/index.html

The Red Balloon – Pre-Pixar Movie Magic

You know you’re watching something special when mom, dad, an eight year old boy and a three year old girl are all equally immersed and captivated by a 34 minute French movie with English subtitles that’s over a half a century old. Granted there’s only about five lines of dialogue in the movie (and amazingly still won the 1957 Academy Award for Best Screenplay – which really does prove that “less is more” once and for all) so there’s very little reading that is required. The Red Balloon, an almost wordless motion picture, is a fantasy piece by director Albert Lamorisse – who cast his son in the starring role as the little Parisian boy who finds a red balloon on his way to school and begins a magical, intimate and ultimately trusting friendship with the bright red shiny orb. Red_balloon

The movie has almost a living story book feel, with amazingly composed shots of the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris which apparently was razed in the late 1960’s. So the movie actually also serves as a recorded preserve of the Belleville area of the city which was a unique neighborhood of steep staircases, narrow passageways and cobblestone streets.

Typically “Friday Night Movie Night” is a boy’s event since little sister is usually in bed by 8pm but tonight was our first family movie night, and thanks to grandma Mama Mela – who spent weeks hunting down the movie – which was only recently released on DVD, we all got to experience a wonderful, touching, beautiful movie.

And the real magic IMO….is that there wasn’t one single computer graphic, blue screen shot, motion capture, 3D animation or technical special effect used. Nor was there a celebrity voice-over, merchandising tie-in or super cool soundtrack with hit singles from Black Eyed Peas or Hannah Montana – just a sweeping string-based score, a great, simple, compelling story, a balloon, a very very thin piece of thread and the opportunity for any and all of us to be connected by pure imagination.

Click here to get it on Amazon: The Red Balloon


The Cradle to College List

While driving home the other day, I listened to the classic Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle” on the radio.

Cat’s in the Cradle

If you’re not familiar with the song it’s about a father who never finds the time to spend with his son and misses the boy’s entire childhood. For example, when the boy CB066201is 10 he asks his father  “…can you teach me to throw?” The father sings “… not today, I got a lot to do – he (the son) says that’s okay and walks away but his smile never dimmed said I’m gonna be like him…”

When the boy is older and home from college, the tables turn and it’s the father that is left longing to spend time with his boy. The last stanza – which is a killer – has the old man retired and lonely and wanting to see his son, who is now an adult but too busy with his own children and work and unable and unwilling  to make the time to see his father – “my boy was just like me…when are you coming home son – I don’t know when but we’ll get together then dad…”

I must have heard this song a million times before, but now, being a father, it’s a sock to the jaw. Although I think (and my wife attests) that I’m a pretty active and present father, the song left me almost heart-broken with the idea of missing opportunities to share great moments with my children… while they are still children.

So – similar to the “bucket list”, which is a list of stuff you really want to do before you die (i.e. “kick the bucket”), I figured, given how quickly our children grow and time passes, that making a “Cradle to College” list would help in ensuring that my children’s childhood doesn’t evaporate before my eyes and I’m left, sitting during their graduation, realizing my opportunity to share special big once in a lifetime moments with my kids has gone FOREVER.

I submit the following items as the beginning of my “Cradle to College” list (as of October 9, 2009):

  • Build a real tree house.
  • Climb a mountain – a 10,000 footer, and sit on the peak with my kids (and my wife).
  • Get them certified for scuba diving.
  • Take my kids to where I was born and where my mother is from – Lima, Peru and have them meet my extended family there.
  • Professionally record some songs with my children – in a studio, playing instruments and/or singing (it doesn’t matter whether they can sing or play).
  • Take my son and daughter to a political rally and have them understand why people are there.
  • Rent an RV motor home and go on an unplanned road trip.
  • See at least 50 of AFI’s Top 100 greatest movies of all time (before they graduate high school).
  • Develop in my children an understanding and appreciation for classical music and take them to at least one full season of the SF symphony and/or opera.
  • Have a several day stint in Manhattan, taking them to the museums, theater, restaurants and giving them a real taste of the magic of NYC.
  • Work side-by-side with them helping those less fortunate than ourselves – such as working the kitchen at Glide Memorial on a Sunday morning.
  • Go on several 2-3 day back country camping trips in the Sierra’s – sleep under the stars, catch & cook fish, teach them how to sling a bear bag, etc.
  • Make sure they’ve seen and know the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Sid Caesar and make sure they can enjoy a movie made in black and white as much as one made with CGI in 3D.
  • Ensure they have a strong and well articulated opinion on who is a better drummer, Neil Pert, Keith Moon, John Bonham or Bill Bruford.mountain

This list will shrink and then grow as we check off and add items over time. And with a little luck and some effort and commitment – I, and hopefully you, will look back on the time we’ve had with our children and know that unlike the protagonist in the song, we didn’t miss the magic of our children’s lives.

Send your special C2C items and I’ll post ’em up for others to see – info@poppapa.com or below in the reply/comment field.

Wee See for Me (and you too)

I’m a big fan of The Polyphonic Spree – the choral symphonic rock group from Dallas Texas, which is headed by Tim DeLaughter. So when I came across a company, Wee See, that produces visual stimulation DVDs for infants with music scored, composed and performed by Tim, I had to check it out. For a quick taste of the experience, click here:


Fans of The Polyphonic Spree will recognize the bright and shiny melodies in the DVDs which are slow methodically dynamic high contrast black and white animations that are soothing and actually pretty fun to watch. I can imagine a concert or party (for grown-ups) with these as visualizations in the background. Here’s a sample of one of the DVDs:

Temptation by Marshmallow

An almost painful but hilarious experiment of kids managing their impulses. I’d be interested to see how adults fare. I wouldn’t be surprised if grown-ups acted more impulsively then the kids. It’s a fun watch. I came across this at a great kid-related, design-based blog called Wee Saw.